Be prepared for the next emergency

Local governments inform the public of emergencies and evacuations. This may soon change

Jennifer Rice is B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness.

By Jennifer Rice – Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness

VICTORIA – It would be cliché to call the events of late January a wake-up call, but that’s exactly what they were.

On Jan. 23, 2018, at 1:32 a.m. – as many were asleep – a 7.9-magnitude earthquake rattled the Earth’s crust, 25 kilometres deep, 280 kilometres southeast and off the coast of Kodiak City, Alaska.

At 4:12 a.m., authorities cancelled the tsunami warning for the B.C. coast.

We had come so, so close. It revealed to us that our systems do work, and in some ways, it was the ultimate training exercise. Communities up and down the coast put their emergency plans to an early-morning test, and by many accounts, they were successful.

While EMBC is tasked with co-ordinating emergency mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery at the provincial level, local governments inform the public of emergencies and evacuations.

This may soon change. As of April 2018, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will mandate that all wireless providers must be able to relay public-safety notifications from alerting authorities to Canadians via the Alert Ready system. This means that anyone with a long-term evolution (LTE) phone that is within range of an LTE cell tower will be able receive Alert Ready messages. Tsunami alerts are among the many early messages that can be transmitted through the new system.

It will take time to work out the bugs, but this new regulatory requirement will go a long way toward ensuring public safety by expanding the reach of regional alerting systems.

In the meantime, EMBC has begun a review of the response to this event. What worked well? How can we improve?

We will be taking a detailed look at the ways we work in partnership with local authorities to keep British Columbians informed and safe. We’re committed to exploring all opportunities to enhance our emergency preparedness.

While the Province carries out this review, I urge all British Columbians – not just those who live along the coastline – to consider their level of readiness. Does your household have an emergency plan? Have you assembled an emergency kit? Do you know your community’s emergency plan? How will they issue alerts?

Let’s not be complacent in our response to this warning. We all have a role to play. For tips on how to step up your emergency preparedness, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/PreparedBC